Thursday, May 26, 2011

98 the Hard Way: Borderline 4s Week 5

WEEK 5 (May 19th-25th)

Total Albums Revisited: 17

Albums Dropped to 3 Stars: 1
  • Maquiladora The Lost Works of Eunice Phelps (Tectonic) Nice enough on the whole, but outside of a few stellar uses of atmosphere it seems a bit more incomplete and lacking than I had remembered it being. [6.6]
Albums Remaining at 3.5 Stars: 12
  • Emmett Swimming Big Night Without You (Elektra) It's amazing how much this sounds like the entirety of modern rock radio circa-1998 without having actually been part of that tapestry to any notable degree. [7.6]
  • Boubacar Traoré Maciré (Label Bleu) Everything sounds great, but the songwriting isn't quite there and the performance seems a little distant. [7.4]
  • Vidna Obmana Crossing the Trail (Projekt) Wave upon wave of peace. Not transcendent or anything but perfectly immersive. [7.3]
  • Jarboe Anhedoniac (Self-Released) Evil, beautiful music that could stand a little bit of editing. [7.2]
  • Paul D. Miller Viral Sonata (Asphodel) As with 90% of Illbient music, the second listen reveals a much less rewarding album than initial impressions would have given. [7.0]
  • Loren MazzaCane Connors Evangeline (Road Cone) The thing with MazzaCane is that even at his subtlest - which this approaches - there's so much feeling in his playing that the results are eminently fascinating. [7.8]
  • Nature and Organization Death in a Snow Leopard Winter (Snow Leopard) I stand by my 'I Can't Believe it's not Eluvium!' assessment, but that implies far more good than bad. [7.6]
  • Lee Ranaldo Dirty Windows (Barooni) A travelogue of unparalleled unease. Beat poetry meets destructive noise rock. Spoilers for One False Move. [7.7]
  • Archbishop Kebab Bellyhunting (Zorlac) May as well be Dog Faced Hermans demos, for all the good and bad that that implies. [7.3]
  • The Chasm Deathcult for Eternity: The Triumph (Oz) There's definitely something worthwhile going on here, but not to the degree I initially thought there was. [7.4]
  • The Third Eye Foundation You Guys Kill Me (Domino/Merge) Transitional record, eschewing the all consuming darkness of Ghost without fully realizing the genre-mashing grandeur of Little Lost Soul. [7.8]
  • Herbert Around the House (Phonography) Without the novelty of its sources it's just another nice but not exceptional house LP. Still much better than the average though. [7.6]
 Albums Being Elevated to 4 Stars: 2
  • The Renderers A Dream of the Sea (Ajax)
  • The Loud Family Days for Days (Alias)
More on these in the next section.

Albums in the Upper 3.5 Star Area: 2

Bassholes When My Blue Moon Turns Red Again (In the Red)
When My Blue Moon Turns Red Again should be a simple album. There are only two men involved in its creation, and its rare that they sound like anything other than that, and on each of the album's 21 (!) tracks they stick to the tried and true garage-blues formula. Really, not only should this album be simple to sum up but it should be pretty fucking boring. And yet it's anything but.

See, while on paper there's nothing going on here that differentiates Bassholes from any number of their label-mates and other contemporaries, there's something in the delivery and formulation of When My Blue Moon Turns Red Again that makes it into one of the more compelling entries in the field. It's in the fact that the band are rarely content to leave these songs as standard shards of high energy blues, instead opting to pile on the weirdness, the surreal imagery, the caustic mindset and the badass harmonica and saxophone to set them apart. It doesn't hurt that drummer Lamont Thomas is able to perfectly balance the rudimentary time keeping with the interesting flourishes that give even the least individual track on here an identifiable personality of sorts. It also doesn't hurt that Dan Howland sounds like he's about 2 hours off his meds and on the verge of going postal at any minute no matter what he's singing about.

Consider that the secret at work here - the album sounds like it's right at the edge of insanity but never quite falls over into it full on. It's unpredictable in a weirdly comforting way, never quite letting you know where it's headed next other than assuring you that it'll still be unhinged. It may have a few faults working against it - any 21 track album, even one like this where the songs all sit comfortably around the 2 minute mark, is bound to have a few duffers, and the aforementioned unpredictability doesn't necessarily stop it from covering the same ground a few times with diminishing returns - but it more than makes up for them by virtue of having enough of a distinct personality to keep me listening, and invested in listening. [7.9/10]

Arab on Radar Rough Day at the Orifice (Oppoppop)
There are bands who work for years and years to become compelling as artists. There are bands who just seem to have that quality from the get go. There are many more artists who never reach that level.

Arab on Radar seem to have stumbled onto it by sheer drunken dumb luck and I fucking love them for it.

Nothing on Rough Day at the Orifice sounds planned out. The few times they hit on a riff it almost seems accidental, like a weird byproduct of what up til that point could very easily have been 4 people playing their instruments with no idea of what anyone else is playing. It's an ugly, juvenile, shambolic mess of an album that nonetheless ends up sounding frighteningly great in small doses. It's the weird case where nothing should fit but everything does when you get attuned to its wavelength. The drumming is haphazard and spurty, the guitars are dialed in for maximum trebly dissonance and never play in time or key with each other, the lyrics are best left alone since I'm predisposed towards being kind to this album and they can be a detriment if you look at 'em too long. None of that sounds like a formula for anything but derisive giggles in the band's general direction - aw, how cute! they think they're making music! - but somehow it winds up making a uniquely fucked up kind of noise rock that no one else can come close to replicating.

I'm not saying that Arab on Radar's novelty should necessarily be a point in their favor since said novelty ties in pretty heavily with the parts of their sound that can make them incredibly annoying in the wrong circumstances, but every time that I hear them I get the weird 'what the fuck was that?' twinge that all but guarantees that I'll be coming back in the near future.  [7.9/10]

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